Boss Sean Connor backing Institute's Irish Cup decision
Institute manager Sean Connor said he fully backs the club’s decision to withdraw from this season’s Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup but stressed he’s fuming his players have lost a year from their football careers.
Connor, who took over from John Quigg as ’Stute boss in September 2019, is angry he was unable to manage his side for most of 2020 and admitted the lack of action left him “down” for a period. However disappointment has been replaced by determination as he begins planning ahead for the 2021/22 campaign.
“We have all lost a year out of our careers,” raged Connor, “The players have lost a year, I have lost a year of my management career and that’s a year we’ll never get back, that’s very frustrating.
“Right now believe it or not, I’m actually preparing our pre-season schedule. That’s what I’m working on right now. I have already got my eyes on next season because that’s the only way we can remain positive.
“I have to admit I was on a real downer myself when we were told there would be definitely no league football this year. That hit me hard. It took me a couple of weeks to get over it but now I am over it and I’m knuckling down and preparing for next season.
“I’m hoping to re-sign every player from this season’s squad for next year because I was very happy with what we had and I’m confident that we will keep everybody because I think this group of players deserves the opportunity to try and get us back into the Premiership.”
The former Dundalk boss was full of praise for the Waterside club’s chairman, Bill Anderson, and pointed the finger of blame at both the Irish Football Association and Northern Ireland Football League for his side not being back playing football this season.
“The club are 100 per cent right (not to compete in the Irish Cup),” stated Connor.
“I think the one positive thing to come out of this from day one has been the unity of purpose at this football club. We have been unified with the message that we believe we were unfairly relegated and unified in the belief championship clubs should have received elite status.
“We have always stated that without elite status there’s no point in playing. I think the club took their time, we have had consultations with the players, the coaching staff and then obviously the chairman had conversions with the board, and the statement the club issued was absolutely perfect. It hit the nail on the head.
“This club is about people, potentially and performance. We are looking after our players wellbeing and mental health so for our players to come back and maybe win a game and then possibly be told a few weeks after that, ‘Oh no, you can’t train as you don’t have elite status’, it’s nonsense.
“Look, the whole shambles is to be laid firmly at the door of the IFA (Irish Football Association) and NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League), going back to their original decision (over elite status).”
The ex-Sligo Rovers gaffer said he felt that while standards on the field are improving and it is an exciting time for the league, he feels clubs are being let down by the administrators.
“I think we are the only league in Europe whose second tier aren’t playing so you have to stand back, look at that and ask yourself how serious are the footballing authorities about developing a professional league and about developing a competitive structure in this country,” he queried.
“With Larne, Glentoran, Crusaders and Linfield all going full-time and then you have Cliftonville, Ballymena United and Coleraine all on their toes, the standard is getting raised but it’s the clubs who are raising the standards, what’s going on outside of the clubs to me is a lack of leadership.
“However I’m proud to be associated with our club. I think the chairman has dealt with everything the way I would expect him to and, as I said, I think our club’s statement is bang on the money.”
After ’Stute joined Newry City, Queen’s University and Harland & Wolff Welders in dropping out of the Irish Cup, Armagh City wrote to the IFA to offer to take up a place in this season’s competition.
The Premier Intermediate League side are offering to fill one of those newly vacant spots having narrowly missed out on inclusion in the draw.
Current Premier and Championship clubs made up 24 of this season’s original 32 participants, joined by the semi-finalists from last season’s Intermediate Cup (Dollingstown, Newington, St James’ Swifts and Belfast Celtic) and also PSNI, relegated from the Championship, and the PIL’s next top three based on last term’s table Portstewart, Bangor and Banbridge Town.
Armagh were the very next team in line and so, have volunteered their services to make up the numbers, much to Connor’s annoyance.
“The Armagh situation I believe shows a lack of vision,” he said.
“It smacks of opportunism and it’s unbelievable when you look at the big picture to think that a club would put their hand up and do that. It’s shocking but also their prerogative so I don’t really want to say anything more.”